E-Mental Health: Digital Alternatives to Mental Health Support in Rural Communities

Seeking support is a vital first step in managing mental health challenges, but what if support is hard to come by? According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, access to mental health services is particularly limited in rural and remote communities. Given the long and demanding days required for many in the farming community, travelling long distances to access therapy or other mental health supports may seem daunting and unrealistic. Even if mental health services are available, there can be long waitlists and those with severe distress may be left without support when they need it most. In addition, everyone has unique preferences when it comes to finding the best support, approach and provider for them. Having more than one or two options can make a difference in increasing a sense of agency and finding the most effective therapy or treatment.

Thankfully, innovations in technology and telehealth options can reduce these barriers to accessing care and support in rural communities. E-mental health has been defined by researchers as “mental health services and information delivered or enhanced through the Internet and related technologies,” and can include interventions like therapy using mobile devices or video conferencing platforms, social media, virtual reality and even gaming. Of course, virtual supports can never fully take the place of in-person interactions, but they are certainly a place to start while waiting for more traditional face-to-face forms of care. Some people may even prefer e-mental health options as they reduce time spent commuting and can be accessed from the comfort of one’s own home.

Below are just a few of the many different types of e-mental health support that you and your loved ones can access remotely:

Breathing Room: This evidence-based digital program and app offers practical strategies to manage stress, depression and anxiety, and is designed for students and young people. The interactive platform uses a combination of music, videos, comedy clips, information from mental health experts, visualization exercises and personal stories from other young people.

Mind Shift: This app uses scientifically proven strategies based on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to help people manage and take charge of their anxiety, and is particularly useful for tackling worry, panic, perfectionism, social anxiety and phobias. The community forum is a new feature that allows people to access peer-to-peer support.

Strongest Families Institute: This non-profit organization provides evidence-based educational mental health programs and support for families, including telephone coaching and support. They offer tailored programs based on a range of topics including parents empowering kids, chasing worries away, defeating anxiety, and addressing adult anxiety and depression.

Electronic Problem-Solving Treatment: This technology was developed for NASA to help astronauts cope with depression in space! Now available for those of us kicking around earth, this personalized and interactive intervention

features a virtual therapist to help people address daily problems, take action and regain a sense of control.

Walk Along: This mental health resource and website is designed for young Canadians to explore their mental health amongst their peers, and offers a mental health chart for tracking mood, sleep and exercise, a virtual locker for storing and sharing resources, art and videos, as well as self-help exercises, lived-experience stories and more.

These e-mental health interventions are just a few of the many digital options you and your family can access to improve your mental health, even if you’re in a remote or rural community with minimal access to mental health services. While digital interventions don’t take the place of face-to-face treatment and counselling, they can complement these services and be a great place to start for improving your mental wellbeing and regaining control over your life and your health.